My unplanned academic career
Dr Sankar Sivarajah shares his success in collaborating across the borders of research disciplines inside and outside the University and with industry and the public sector. Sankar's main aim is to improve society with the use of digital technologies, particularly in the context of sustainability and the circular economy.
I joined the University of Bradford in December 2017 as a Reader in Technology Management and Circular Economy in the School of Management and also took on the role of Head of Business Analytics, Circular Economy and Supply Chain (BACES) Research Centre.
My unplanned research career in academia started in 2013 during the final stages of my PhD journey (thanks to my supervisor and mentor) when I took on a part-time role as a Research Associate on a large European Union (EU) funded (FP7) R&I project which focused on the development of a cloud computing platform for the public services. I say unplanned as I was summoned on many occasions by my parents after I completed each of my degrees to join our family business (hence my focus on entrepreneurship during my masters). My role as a Research Associate at Brunel was my first exposure to applied research and gave me invaluable experience which resulted in me realising my genuine interest for real world application of research which made me want to continue pursuing my career in academia. As soon as I completed my PhD during the summer of 2014, I took on a full-time role as a Post-Doctoral Fellow on another large EU FP7 funded project that focused on the development of a decision support platform for driving energy efficiency within a smart city context. In 2016, I was appointed as a permanent Lecturer in Operations and Information Systems Management at Brunel University and then took on additional roles as a Senior Tutor and Research Fellow continuing to work on the several funded projects and also teaching focusing on the application of digital technology within a public and private sector context.
My broad area of research interest and expertise has always been interdisciplinary; focusing on the use of emerging digital technology for the betterment of society, be it in a business or government context. My key contributions on the R&I projects that I have been involved in has been around leading evaluation (technical and non-technical) and impact (social, economic, policy and environmental) assessment work packages, systems architecture design (service-oriented architecture), user requirements gathering, and development of innovative business models (more recently on Circular Business Models). My current and evolving research interests include exploring the role of digital technologies in the context of circular economy, sustainable supply chain management and public sector innovation and transformation. I actively publish in leading high impact factor journals such as Journal of Business Research, Computers in Human Behaviour and Government Information Quarterly. My research has also been featured in reputable media/trade publications such as Computer Weekly, Public Sector Focus, and the London School of Economics academic blog.
Whilst I remain research active, I also have a passion for research informed teaching and curriculum enhancements. Since joining the University of Bradford, my team and I have led the development and launch of a successful MSc programme in Logistics, Data Analytics and Supply Chain Management in September 2018 which was co-designed with inputs from leading industry professionals such as ASDA, Hargreaves Logistics and SAS Business Intelligence and Analytics. I have also recently led the development of two undergraduate programmes in Business Analytics (BSc (Hons) Management and Business Analytics and BSc (Hons) Finance and Business Analytics) in partnership with leading industry partners such as Google and SAP which is launching in September 2019. I am currently involved in the development of new curriculum focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) as part of a university wide initiative. I have also delivered many invited keynote lectures around technology management and circular economy nationally and internationally. I am also proud of being part of the distance learning teaching team on the Bradford’s pioneering world ranked MBA on Innovation, Enterprise and Circular Economy which also provides me with a platform to share my research across borders.
One thing I strongly believe and have learnt over the years is in shared success and responsibility where working together as a team matter. Equally important is collaboration which has played an integral role in many of the past and current successful projects. The lessons learnt from the not so successful projects have also been instrumental in shaping my current and future research agendas. To date, I have been involved as Principal and Co-investigator in over £3 million worth of R&I and consultancy projects funded by national, international funding bodies and commercial organisations. Some of the notable funders have been the European Commission (FP7, H2020, Marie Curie), Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), Innovate UK/DEFRA and British Council focusing on projects addressing business and societal challenges surrounding themes such as Blockchain use in Financial Services, Smart Waste and Cities, Energy efficient data centres, Social innovation and Participatory Budgeting (currently being developed as an impact case). Some of the key past and present industry and public sector partners that I have collaborated with are Fraunhofer, Thales, Enel, Telefonica, Vodafone, Leeds Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Cambridgeshire County Council, Hounslow Council, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Arup and PA Consulting to name a few. University professional services and academic colleagues and mentors have played a significant role in helping with all of these success stories from the financials to reviewing and providing constructive feedback in developing these impactful research projects. The message here is that working together in a team and sharing leadership and responsibilities does make a real difference and adds value to all the work that I do.
My research aspirations and focus will continue to revolve around the use of digital technology for the betterment of the society. I have recently jointly worked on and submitted two large EU project (H2020) proposals with colleagues from the School of Management and across the University around the use of 5G technology in disaster recovery scenarios and the development of AI based platform for emergency responders where the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Services are also involved. I hope to continue learning and moving forward on this academic journey with the support of my team, colleagues and mentors and make a real impact to the wider society.